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Pre-Exhaust Training: Order Your Movements For Maximum Growth

There's a simple but diabolically effective way to bring up lagging body parts or spur overall muscle gains. Hit your muscles once, and then hit them again!

The formula for building muscle isn't locked away in a vault somewhere like the recipe for Coca-Cola. It's more like the recipe for ice: We all know what it is, but it takes some patience to see the end product. In case you're curious, here it is:

Perhaps that's an oversimplification, but it doesn't make it any less true. If you want to build muscle, you need to lift and you need to eat. These are the universal truths. But they're not enough to fill out a program or a meal plan, so let's get more specific.

When it comes to both food and training, the body constantly seeks to adapt to whatever stimulus you impart upon it. Muscle hypertrophy is a response to certain stimuli, in particular things like tension, muscle damage, and metabolic stress. So if you want to grow, those are the kinds of conditions your training should strive to create. There are plenty of ways to achieve these conditions independently, but a classic way of combining all three is pre-exhaust training.

Three Steps to Growth ///

The pre-exhaust method is as popular with bodybuilders as skinny jeans are with hipsters. It's easy to implement, and if used properly it can yield amazing results. Aside from being great for overall growth, it's also perfect for trying to target a lagging body part. Here's how it works:

Here's why. Normally, say when you bench press, your triceps, deltoids and other assistance muscles will fail before your pecs. However, when you hit your pecs with an isolation movement like the flye, your pecs will then fail at the same time, or even before, those assistance muscles once you begin benching. The result: more muscle fibers hit in the pectorals, and more grow as a result.

More generally, the muscles will sustain significant damage due to the volume and load involved, and metabolic stress occurs because of the short rest periods and concentrated volume. You also create significant tension by selecting effective movements and using a moderate rep range, particularly with your compound exercise.

In short, it meets all the requirements for hypertrophy in spades. It'll get you big.

The Pre-Exhaust Program ///

No method, regardless of how magical it is, will work well if it's incorporated into a junk program. You need a solid training routine in support, as well as good nutrition, if you want to see real results.

This program uses pre-exhaust movements for each body part, but in a way that doesn't produce overtraining. If you tried to pre-exhaust every movement in a workout, you would end up crushing yourself. Doing one pre-exhausted movement per body part is the smartest way to work.

And make sure you pay attention to those rest periods! The entire purpose of pre-exhaust training is to go into your compound movement with the primary muscle fatigued by the isolation movement.

If you rest too long and the muscle gets extra recovery time, you defeat the purpose of the method.

WEEK 1

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

WEEK 2

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

WEEK 3

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

WEEK 4

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4

Eat Big To Get Big ///

This is an unadulterated mass-gaining program. As such, it demands hypertrophy-oriented nutrition behind it to drive your results. That means you need to make sure you eat enough. Second, choose high-quality calories! Don't grab a double quarter pounder after every session just because you're bulking, bro. Make sure you get enough protein and complex carbs!

Conversely, this isn't the time to try a ketogenic diet. Maintaining full glycogen stores signals your body to grow.

Another simple change you can make to aid your muscle building during these four weeks is to incorporate pre- and intra-workout nutrition. Ingest a small pre-workout shake and some intra-workout amino acids to ensure that your body is always ready to grow. If you can keep all these things in line and not slack in the gym, you'll be investing in bigger shirts in no time.


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About The Author

Chris Smith is a strength coach from New York City and the founder of Train Better Fitness.

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sabresfan11

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sabresfan11

Interesting...I may give this a shot....

May 24, 2013 5:56pm | report
CSmit724

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CSmit724

Let me know how it goes if you do over on my FB page.

May 24, 2013 6:56pm | report
Mudvayne24

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Mudvayne24

Pre-exhaustion hurts like a biotch, but it works wonders. From personal experience it works great when you get a lull in your typical compound movement to isolation movement type workout. For example, yesterday on my heavy sets I did flat dumb presses with 90s for 11 and 10. When switching to pre-exhaustion workouts I'm doing pullovers, flies, crossovers, etc. before I ever get to a press. By the time I press I'm barely able to rep out 50s. It gives me a giant pump and I get a much needed DOMS for the next couple of days. If you haven't tried it I'd definitely recommend it to switch things up, but remember the weight will vary significantly from what you're used to!

May 25, 2013 11:47am | report
sabresfan11

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sabresfan11

I will keep you posted. I'm taking a week off because I'll be on vacation so when I get back I'll fire up this routine. After Gethin's 12 weeks it'll be a nice change of pace.

May 26, 2013 1:51pm | report
JSClen

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JSClen

I have bad shoulders, and they usually give out on the bench press before the chest does, even with someone checking my form, so I like to pre-exhaust chest to make sure I get enough work in. thanks for the article!

May 25, 2013 7:36am | report
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  • ht: 21'11"
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CSmit724

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CSmit724

Glad you liked it. I've found this to be an excellent technique for training around a weak or compromised area (if done safely).

May 25, 2013 8:50am | report
dreambig1993

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dreambig1993

I love pre exhausting my legs!!!

May 25, 2013 9:22am | report
reife

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reife

I'll Give It A try.

May 25, 2013 10:40am | report
SandBeagle

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SandBeagle

"Pre-exhausting" sounds about as useful as getting a base tan.

May 25, 2013 12:09pm | report
esoto28

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esoto28

Question, I do one muscle per day, I want to implement pre-exhausting technique into my routine can I do at least one superset of each muscle ? for example I always start with bench press on chest only days, can I do dumbbell flyes then bench press then continue to my normal exercises routine? or at least two? since I work one muscle per day they have enough time to rest and not necessary lead to over training I assume, correct me if i'm wrong :) Thanks!

May 25, 2013 12:49pm | report
CSmit724

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CSmit724

If that's the case then I would suggest pre-exhausting your first exercise like in the program from the article. So you would:

Dumbbell flye, rest 20 seconds then bench press. Repeat for however many sets you do. Then do the rest of your workout as normal.

Chris

May 25, 2013 1:19pm | report
esoto28

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esoto28

Thank you for your advice Christopher! :)

May 25, 2013 2:00pm | report
gmap

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gmap

You state in the explanation to only pre exhaust one muscle per workout but the examples show pre-X'ing all the body parts.
On my chest/bicep day then I would only pre-X chest and do my regular bicep routine?

May 25, 2013 8:01pm | report
CSmit724

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CSmit724

That's up to you. I can only speak for the program I wrote in the article.

May 26, 2013 8:49am | report
CSmit724

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CSmit724

How many times per week are you training your biceps? If only once then I would probably pre-exhaust them on that day. Curls into chin-ups would be a good choice.

May 26, 2013 9:57am | report
ollieodells

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ollieodells

great for when you're training quads on a different day to hams or tris/bis on a different day to chest/back.

May 26, 2013 2:12pm | report
thatdamngoood

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thatdamngoood

I loved that quad/ham break-up as well..

Jun 12, 2013 5:30am | report
Asad3

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Asad3

I am confused, Should we do all supersets in one workout or choose just one superset from list of day 1 or day 2? and what should be rest time, its like 1 set of seated leg curl then rest 20 seconds then 1 set of deadlift then rest 90 seconds and repeat again? am I right?

May 26, 2013 3:02pm | report
CSmit724

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CSmit724

Asad you're best off following the program as written. Each day has it's own pre-exhaust superset depending on the muscle group focused on. As written above you would do one set of leg curls, rest 20 seconds then straight to the RDLs, rest 90s and then repeat the process.

May 26, 2013 3:19pm | report
Omanox

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Omanox

Great article thanks a bunch this looks like the easiest way to explain gyming to a beginner

May 26, 2013 5:22pm | report
Jaysan2003

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Jaysan2003

Wow I did this type of routine with all legs today. It's crazy because I exploded with more energy from mid routine until the end. Thanks for posting this article.

May 27, 2013 8:53am | report
CSmit724

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CSmit724

Glad you liked it.

May 27, 2013 9:18am | report
justkeeptrying

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justkeeptrying

Great info! I'll trying this out today!

May 27, 2013 9:20am | report
claytoncoombs2002

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claytoncoombs2002

Great workout! Does anyone know how I can add this to my workouts on my bodyspace? or will I need to print the sheets out? Thanks

May 28, 2013 3:43pm | report
egeze

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egeze

Ok I wanna try this do I go A1 B1 C1 or do all of A1 and A2 then move down.

May 28, 2013 7:01pm | report
Showing 1 - 25 of 34 Comments

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